|The ZL1 just sucked it up, lap after lap, like the Labrador that keeps chasing a stick for as long as you’re willing to throw it. It’s one of those great cars that demand little from a driver but reward anyway. Those with less experience on the NCM track never felt intimidated, and those with bulging notebooks testifying to seat time in similar cars felt like they were really getting under its skin.
And, of course, it is fast. The Camaro clocked a lap time of 1:32.15, beating the 911 by 24 hundredths. And did we mention the price? We try not to in this competition. But when a machine costs half as much as a 911 GT3 and is faster around a racetrack, while plastering a grin across the face of everyone who drives it, the fact that said car is such a bargain makes it even more noteworthy.
All in, the GT R’s impressive lap time showcases what an incredible job AMG has done turning the so-so GT into a proper driver’s car, and the 911 is as nuanced as it ever was. But the egalitarian ZL1 1LE won us over. Underdog, you say? Überdog, is more like.—Chris Chilton
And then there were four—the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, Honda Civic Type R, Lexus LC 500, and McLaren 720S. You’d be hard-pressed to choose a broader-spectrum anti-biotic for creeping automotive disinterest, yet at the core, each of these cars expresses a similarly uncompromising approach to performance-focused engineering. They’re loaded with things that you only notice after long examination: the heavy-duty steering knuckles on the Civic, the combination knob/switch used by the Lexus to adjust the shocks and relax the stability control, the knee bolstering on the Camaro’s center console, the way the TFT dashboard on the McLaren Fosbury-flops out of the way for unimpeded vision on a racetrack. You can have opinions about the Civic’s aero package or the McLaren’s socketed headlamps, but you can’t say that our final four don’t bring their A game in nearly every aspect that matters to a driver.
In years past, the PCOTY voting process has taken as long as four hours, often laced with impassioned speeches, tense disagreements, and uncomfortable bouts of soul-searching. Not this time. A single round of discussion and voting took a fraction of that. Our eight editors each assigned a ranking to the finalists. The rankings were added and averaged to provide the final results. Only two cars received first-place votes, and the mathematical distance between each place turned out to be unequivocal.
Two editors cast first-place votes for the Camaro ZL1 1LE, and no wonder. The big-box Chevrolet seems to vibrate from the tires up with a sort of manic pixie dream pony-car joyfulness. “Still big and heavy, but that makes it all the more impressive,” Okulski said. “The only limiting factor on track time is the amount of fuel in the tank—it could run for days straight.” If the C7 Corvette Z06 is a very good car, and the previous-generation Camaro Z/28 was a flat-out great car, then this combination is somehow even better than the sum of its impressive parts. Capable of running with $200,000 supercars, yet easily serviceable at your local GM dealer, the ZL1 1LE is a stunning statement of intent and an example of what America’s biggest car company can do when it lets engineers turn their dreams into reality. God bless it for existing.